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Martha Krohn on Alumni Engagement

Associate Vice President for Annual Giving, Alumni Relations and Engagement University of Rochester

Martha Krohn has a philosophy about annual giving and alumni relations: they should be integrated. At many colleges and universities, these two areas are distinct with distinct goals, programming, staff and responsibilities. Not so at the University of Rochester, where the two have been brought together around the shared goal of increasing participation and engagement across the board.

“I’ve been in advancement for almost 20 years,” states Martha, “and I’ve always felt strongly about the need to integrate annual giving and alumni relations, and I’m really pleased that we are doing it here at the University of Rochester.”

What that means, she explains, is having a shared goal of engaging more alumni, parents and friends through their 4 points of engagement: “Go (attend events), Give (donate), Help (volunteer), Connect (online connections)." The ultimate goal is one of “shared ownership” wherein alumni embrace the “journey ahead” by offering their ideas, skills, time and talent. “We’ve got some really wonderful volunteers across the country who are with us in this,” Martha states, “who have wonderful ideas and choose to host events and provide programming for their fellow alumni.” As an example, she cites a women’s group in New York that hosts an informal monthly breakfast. “They do this on their own because they love the networking opportunities and the new relationships that come from getting together,” Martha elaborates.

Asked about how the staff is organized, Martha replies it’s a bit of a “hybrid.” Annual Giving staff do the traditional work of donor participation strategies, direct marketing, data management and analysis. On the Alumni Relations side, staff manages volunteers, programming, and engagement, and pull together comprehensive regional event plans. However, the two teams hold regular joint meetings with the result that both teams are “cross-trained,” fully versed on both sides of the house, and “equally focused on best practices and metrics to produce the best results” as Martha puts it.

Because alumni communications are coordinated through a shared calendar and—this is important! —assigned a single point of contact within the department, alumni now have a consistent experience with University Advancement. Martha explains that whether alumni are volunteering on behalf of their class, a George Eastman Circle volunteer, or helping host an event their interactions with the Advancement staff are consistent from beginning to end. Internal policies, like returning phone calls within 24 hours speak to a commitment to providing the best possible experience for University alumni and other donors, volunteers and friends.

Creating meaningful opportunities is another key component of the alumni experience. Meliora Weekend is a University-wide celebration that incorporates Family Weekend, Reunion, Homecoming and a campus-community experience all in one. It’s an opportunity for alumni, families, faculty, staff, students and friends to come together for several days of events, music, symposia, activities and more. According to Martha, class-based affinity is a big part of the weekend. “People gather at their old fraternity or in the athletics tent,” based on their shared experiences and interests,” she states.

By going directly to alumni for input on what they are looking for in terms of engagement, the Advancement team is creating that sense of ownership that Martha hopes for. To engage volunteers long-distance, there is an on-line interest form that allows people to express what they are looking for and the impact they want to make. Advancement then does their best to match those interests with a positive volunteer opportunity.

Robust regional networks are the result of surveying alumni and learning that expanded regional, affinity and professional networks are something they want as part of their relationship with the University. Alumni are encouraged to organize social and educational events, or attend local cultural, education or University-impact events. On-line planning tools and other resources have been developed to facilitate alumni efforts. Alumni are encouraged to help spread buzz about the things going on in their cities by sending a few emails or making a few calls, as well as using social media. The Network Leadership Cabinet is a group of volunteers that want to lead and coordinate U of R activities and serve as key ambassadors in their city or region. A typical post aimed at bringing alumni together might look like this:

“Join your University of Rochester friends and make a difference in your community during the inaugural Global Day of Service! If you have a passion for a local organization or cause, organize a group of Rochester volunteers to pitch in with you. Learn more and register your project on the alumni website, below, or email…”

Challenges remain of course. With so many great ideas and examples of alumni engagement projects out there, “there is never enough time or budget to do everything you want to do,” Martha good-naturedly complains. She recommends, “have a plan and work within your budget, but also leave yourself some room to be flexible so that you can explore a new initiative or support a volunteer’s great idea.”

Martha ends with, “I think it’s very, very important as you're adding new concepts that you really integrate that with the tried and true traditions that make your institution what it is. I think that means a lot to alumni and donors and others who have had longstanding relationships with your institution.”

With 20 years of experience in higher education advancement, Martha Cassidy Krohn is a proven leader managing and growing annual giving, alumni relations and engagement programs. Martha currently holds the position of Associate Vice President of Engagement, Annual Giving and Alumni Relations Programs at the University of Rochester. She oversees integrated and robust annual giving and alumni relations programs focused on increasing the global network for the University of Rochester and its medical center through all 4 points of engagement; giving, volunteerism, events and social/digital connections. Since Martha joined the University of Rochester eight years ago, the annual giving program has tripled in annual dollars raised per year and the new engagement plan has become a top priority for Advancement. Prior to Rochester, Martha managed the annual giving program at Carnegie Mellon University and prior to that oversaw the program at Emerson College, and served in several fundraising and Advancement roles at the University of Connecticut.

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